From Corn to Cement

Photo Credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

UMKC works with Ghana researcher on developing a potentially life-changing building material

A tiny container of burnt corn husks brings smiles to the faces of PhD student Mark Bediako and John Kevern, University of Missouri-Kansas City associate civil engineering professor.

Why the giddy grins over a jar? The black powdery contents probably hold the key to improving western Africa’s poor housing conditions.

“I’ve never worked on anything of this magnitude, something that could help millions of people,” said Kevern, whose expertise in the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering includes cement.

Cement is the literal stumbling block to better residential and commercial buildings in western Africa, including Ghana, from where Bediako is visiting UMKC. Because of the climate, cement block is the most durable building material but price and quality are major issues.

“Cement can cost up to 10 times more  in Africa,” Kevern explained. “Only a handful of places produce it. Because of its scarcity, and therefore expense, it’s stretched out with inferior filler that diminishes the quality.”

But as limited as cement is, corn is abundant. Bediako, a divisional director at the Ghanaian Building and Roads Research Institute in material re-use, shows a snapshot of himself standing knee-deep in piles of corn husks.

“There’s so much of the corn plant that gets wasted, we have to burn it,” Bediako said.

The wasted corn is where the husk ash and the men’s grins come in. Corn husks are a free resource — and Kevern and Bediako think they can make cement from it as well as other African agricultural waste including rice husks and palm kernel shells. In other words, trash to treasure.

Agricultural materials were shipped from Ghana to Kansas City, where they will be tested for the optimum blend and durability in UMKC’s civil engineering and materials lab and at Ash Grove Cement Company, headquartered in Overland Park.

Bediako recently received a competitive African research award, the Emerald African Engineering Research Fund Award. He will research at UMKC until October when he is scheduled to return to Ghana.

| Stacy Downs, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications



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